Trust the vital pillar for future business success
I like to think I have the best job in my company and maybe the entire telecommunications industry: exploring the human elements of the digital revolution. It’s a job that allows me the freedom to research and write, and importantly, to visit countries like Australia to talk about this exciting networked environment.
On my recent Australian trip it was my privilege to help Tim O’Leary launch Telstra’s new CSO (Chief Sustainability Office) Academy, a forum for discussion on emerging issues and trends. As someone who visits plenty of service providers around the world, I think this is a great initiative. Being at the forefront of new thinking is vital for any company at the vanguard of service and experience, like Telstra. And ideas like identity and trust are now rightly taking their place as defining themes for our time.
I spoke to the CSO Academy about my most recent research project for Alcatel-Lucent, which tackled one of the issues most relevant to businesses, and particularly telecommunications companies, today: identity. Interviewing 5,000 American consumers and spending time with more than 30 households, we set out to answer the question of how consumers see themselves through the lens of this emerging connected world, and how that impacts their online behaviours and perceptions of others. We wrote a book about it, Identity Shift: Where Identity Meets Technology in the Networked-Community Age.
The research provided some startling insights and revealed particular challenges for anyone developing relationships and new service models online. The internet has some obvious advantages when it comes to consumer targeting, but when does personalisation blend into creepy and how can a company protect itself from crossing the line?
Of course there’s no single answer and it’s easy to get it wrong (just ask Target in the US) but building an internal culture where identity is held in constant regard, and privacy policies serve consumers not lawyers, are certainly steps in the right direction.
One of the inherent problems getting a handle on what people expect from companies online is the disconnection between what they say about their identity and what they actually do. For instance, 18% of our respondents declared themselves “private” people who carefully manage what they share with others. It might therefore surprise you to learn that 50% of these same people also admitted to regularly updating their social networking page with precise location details. In another example, 11% of our respondents told us they see the world as a “scary” place and actively avoid danger. That seems fine, but 30% of these same people also admitted to exposing their full date of birth online.
So what to do when your consumers don’t do what they say?
An important start is to recognise the value of trust. In fact our respondents told us they were more likely to buy from a brand they trust than one they love. Earned over time and lost in a moment, trust is the key to rewarding relationships and unlocking the potential of networked service delivery.
People don’t trust a company that collects too much customer information, isn’t upfront or honest about how it uses it and doesn’t respect customer privacy. On the other hand, people do trust a company that is reliable, honest, values its customers, has extraordinary customer service and no gimmicks.
People don’t expect a white knight to save them online. They know they have a responsibility to themselves and simply want to be able to understand and retain some control over how the companies they deal with are using their personal information. They know that shared data can create better services and our most privacy-focused respondents indicated they’ll exchange information about themselves for “relevant” services compared to generic “free” services. However, they’re even more comfortable doing so when they have a level of “control” over their identity and use of personal information.
It seems like a simple message that reliability, good service, clarity and transparency build trust. But too often companies put product before people. Too often corporate policies are too complex, written to win legal arguments rather than inform or empower consumers. Too often they are hidden, layers below where consumers expect to find them.
Part of my job is to help telecommunications companies re-imagine the way they develop and bring new innovative products and services to market. Traditionally, this process has been all about the technology but those days are now long behind us. Today, it’s about our customers, how they act, interact and respond in the networked environment. We’re at the beginning of a long journey and we can’t stop learning.
I’d be interested to hear your views in the comments below.